By Ammar Kalia | Published October 2019
As far as tabletop games go, the ancient Chinese mahjong is one of the most fiendishly difficult and intricate. Made up of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, it’s a pastime that can take a lifetime to master. It feels apt then that saxophonist Jon Irabagon takes mahjong as his inspiration for the double record Invisible Horizon. Basing the eight compositions of the first half, Invisible Guests, around the mechanics of a mahjong game, his saxophone meanders through atonal classical melodies, stark ambience and bursts of luscious strings—each motif unfolding as a tile overturned.
Birdsong and droning strings herald the cinematic opening of “Vignette For Mouthpieceless Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet” with the faint sound of Irabagon’s breath passing through his saxophone as a reminder of his presence. There is the sense of a meltdown in many of these compositions, the arrangements verging on the precipice of falling apart, before being pulled back by dynamic shifts. Similarly, on the second half of the release, Dark Horizon: Live From The Mausoleum, Irabagon mingles frenetic solo saxophone with the oneiric reverb of an Oslo crypt, where he recorded. Breath mingles with the echo of its own making, just as the string quartet on Invisible Guests provides a response to the piano’s rhythm. It’s as much a field recording of the room and experiment in Iragabon’s force as it is a cohesive record. Ultimately, though, Invisible Horizon is a difficult listen, one that could benefit from a greater sense of structure. Yet, Irabagon’s playing is captivating once you allow yourself into the looping ebb and flow of textures he creates.
Invisible Horizon: Disc one: Vignette For Mouthpieceless Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet; Invisible Guests I-VI; Vignette For Sopranino Saxophone And String Quartet. Disc two: Dark Horizon (Entrance); Dragonwort; Forest & Field; Holy Smoke; Good Old Days (Theme From The Little Rascals); Eternal Rest; Half A World Away; Dark Horizon (Exit Bow). (57:11/38:17)
Personnel: Jon Irabagon, sopranino saxophone, mezzo soprano saxophone; Matt Mitchell (Disc one), piano; Mivos Quartet (Disc one), strings.